Working in the media long before the Internet and the World Wide Web existed, I learned to do face to face interviews, both as the interviewer and as the subject. Only on rare occasions might a telephone interview be necessary.
Over the past few years, at least in the publishing industry, there’s been a new trend in the interview process. In what I’ll call an e-mail interview, the subject is sent a list of potential questions prepared by the interviewer, writes answers to the questions, and sends them back.
Some important elements are lost in this process. Gone are the shifts in vocal inflection and intensity heard in the telephone interview, gone are the body language and facial cues seen face to face, gone is the interactive nature that underlies a person-to-person interview. I think these are serious losses.
When interviewing in person, often an answer will evoke a new question not included in the original list, a question that may take the interview in new and interesting directions. As well, in a personal interview, there is always a sense of the dynamic between the interviewer and the subject. Often, this dynamic can inject something very powerful just below the surface represented by the questions and answers.
Okay, you say, but this is a new century and time and distance can make an in-person interview difficult if not impossible to arrange. The text-interview by e-mail or e-mail attachment is the modern solution. Why? This seems to me a huge step backward. Such an interview could have been done in 1920 using typewriters and regular mail. For that matter, it could have been done far earlier using quill pens and couriers on horses. So I ask why.
We do have the technology to do much better. The telephone is still available to us, and much more versatile than it has ever been. The Internet makes person-to-person interviews even easier to conduct. Services such as Skype make it possible to have a direct, real-time conversation that includes both sound and live images at any distance and at any time and to record the interview.
The recording of the interview can be transcribed and published in hard-copy or online. The audio can be stripped for broadcast on radio or online. The entire interview can be made available online through services such as YouTube or on the magazine’s website. It seems to me this is a far better, more modern way to conduct interviews, giving all the interactive potentials of the old-style person-to-person interviews and all the benefits of 21st Century production and distribution.
These tools of the brave new world are available to all of us. It surprises me that small and independent presses, literary magazines, websites covering the book-beat, and the arts press in general don’t take advantage of them. The potential is mind-boggling.